I left the W2 world and became an independent consultant more than four years ago. Professionally, these have been the best four years, although I haven’t gained significant new skills or progressed higher. As an independent, that’s difficult to begin with because you’re hired for a role with a defined boundary. It’s possible to get more, of course, but you have to be proactive because no one is pushing from behind, or pulling from above. (Pick one.) I wasn’t overly proactive in the roles I had because I didn’t want to be.
I like that, personally. I jumped out of the W2 world because I’m not interested in the “Up or Out” career path. Lateral moves are fine because I like the behind the scenes tasks and mental challenges. Digging in code to find mistakes suits me much better than managing people who will dig in code.
Blogging is a perfect example of this. You don’t see me on YouTube and only a select few of you even know my full name. I don’t blog anonymously because I’m ashamed of my ideas. I just like my ideas more than I care for accolades. There is also the desire to block out my professional life from Rolling Doughnut, although I clearly give enough personal information that anyone who knows me even remotely could place the two together.
Before I go too far on this tangent, let it suffice that I like the mind more than the mouth. That’s probably the most pithy-yet-accurate way to assess my interests. It’s why I intend to be a professional writer at some point. I’m working on it. but I’m not ready. Not because of my words. I know I’m good enough there. I’m still looking for the entryway into a published gig, but that’s also not the problem. More on this in a moment.
This has been the long way of saying that I finished up my last consulting project in April 2007. I took a little bit of time off because I could. And then I took a lot of time off because I couldn’t find a new role. I had a few leads that seemed to die right before fruition. I had another that died a very strange death, though hindsight left me unsurprised. (This is the role that allowed me to buy my MINI before I should have. Rather than a dearth of intelligence, it was an overabundance of faith. Lesson learned.)
So, bottom line: the $40 I earned for my day of jury duty is my sole income in the last 13 months. Don’t fret for me because I saved well enough in the preceding years. I haven’t had to sell blood or possessions or cancel luxuries like Netflix. My mortgage is not delinquent, and my revolving credit card balances are $0. Nor should you read this as an indictment of the economy. I am not caught in that, directly. (Indirectly, probably.) There are market forces at work in my industry that started long before trouble in the economy. I won’t bore you with details.
Unfortunately, and perhaps usefully instructional, I must redirect my career in the short-term. I’ve accepted a W2 position. I can’t say I’m overjoyed at the prospect. The opportunity is good because, apart from providing income (!), I will learn new software skills. My software methodology skills are excellent and will always be marketable, but as good as my software skills are, they won’t be marketable forever. Creative destruction is at work. I can’t champion capitalism and not expect to get the (alleged) short end of it. But apart from having to go back to being an employee, calling this the short end would be nothing more than whining that change happens. No, thanks.
Now, back to writing. As I mentioned, that’s where I want my career to go. I’m already working in that direction. But I learned something in the last 13 months. I’m scared. I know I can write, but I don’t know if I can write professionally. While I had free days and nights to toil away at making the blank page not blank, I surfed the Internet. I blogged, which is useful, but not completely. I played video games. I watched television. I did everything but write.
Before I convey too much self-loathing, I’ve enjoyed the last 13 months like no other time in my life. I bought a year of retirement and it was wonderful. I loved not reporting to anyone for anything. I learned not to apologize for being who I am. I learned that I could explain a 13 month absence from the workforce and not feel the least bit of concern for how that truth is received. That will be useful.
I also learned I could live on less money than I thought. I learned where I need to focus my pursuits to be the kind of happy I want. A friend of mine is also unemployed right now. He is a workaholic. I can’t imagine how much the time off is messing with his head. I have no such misfortune. Not because I don’t like to work, but the work matters more than working. And 13 months of being disengaged taught me that in a way I didn’t comprehend before.
What does this all mean? First, the obvious. Blogging here is going to be disrupted for a bit while I readjust to a structured schedule and my new employer. I haven’t posted in a week and I’m telling you that when I have somewhere to go every day, I’ll have to figure out how to make this work. Duh. Seriously, though, Rolling Doughnut isn’t going anywhere. Without it, I wouldn’t have written more than 100,000 words on circumcision in the last three years. That matters to me.
Second, my blogging will probably change a little once I’ve readjusted to having a job. I want to write for publication. I’m interested in policy questions and political theory, for example. I also have a book on circumcision tumbling around in my brain. It needs to get out.
But I also want to write fiction. I have no idea if I can write a novel worth publishing. That can no longer deter me. I listened to that for the last 13 months. Years, really, but I can’t excuse away the last 13 months. I had the time. I have the ideas. The two must meet. Again, I don’t know how to do this, but I will in the coming weeks and months. Perhaps I’ll write nothing but shit. Probably I will. But I can’t edit the blank page.
Finally, as to my career, it bums me out a little. I love the freedom that comes with being independent. The money is great, sure, although Congress takes away much of that gain directly through taxes and indirectly through stupid policies like incentives for employer-based health insurance. But dictating when I take a vacation, within professional bounds, is better than asking. Not worrying about accumulated vacation time is also nice, even though vacation was just unpaid time off. That’s a better-than-fair trade in practice.
Still, I’m not worried. I’ll get back to independent eventually. Not in the short-term because my reputation in my industry is important, so I’m not going to screw over my new employer by treating them as a place-holder. However, it would be silly for anyone to assume I’ll eventually retire from this company. Until then, I’ll learn new skills while providing a valuable service in return for a paycheck. As much as I love independence, I’m not interested in losing my house.
I’ll probably return to independent consulting. But maybe not. I’m going to attempt to pull off a writing career. I doubt I’ll make as much money
if when I become published, but I don’t care. The money didn’t drive me before, I thought, but I was wrong. It did. Through the last 13 months, it doesn’t now, at least not to the same extent. Not being able to spend money frivolously has been frustrating. I get the urge to spend just to spend. But material things don’t hold the same sway over me now. I need less. (Last night I went to Best Buy to celebrate my new job with a minor shopping spree. I spent $10 on the new Jason Mraz cd. Hey, big spender.)
That’s what’s up with me, and what will be up with me in the near future.